Caffeine Fiend by Tony Java! at Boulevard gallery, NoDaI’ve just enjoyed a balmy Southern Friday evening in Charlotte, North Carolina, which is probably best known as the heart of NASCAR country.

No, I wasn’t at a stock car race, speaking of interesting sports.

Last night I enjoyed dinner at the very not Southern, Baja-ish Cabo Fish Taco restaurant, followed by a stroll through local art galleries during the twice-monthly Gallery Crawl in the hip NoDa arts district in Charlotte (I’m in the area researching a combination NASCAR/travel article for an upcoming issue of Automotive Traveler.)

“NoDa” is part of the current fad of every American city trying to have a neighborhood shorthand name like New York City’s SoHo, which is “south of Houston Street.”

NoDa is the “North Davidson Street” area of Charlotte; it’s a National Register Historic District and former textile manufacturing hub (one of the mills has been converted to swank lofts and apartments.)

The galleries were fun and and had a variety of art mediums: sculpture, pottery, paintings, fabric art, etc.  I liked the caffeinated paintings by artist Tony Java!,  but I’m trying to save my pennies for next week’s visit to the Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center in the North Carolina Blue Ridge mountains.

I was particularly interested in the NoDa Neighborhood Theatre, which bills itself as a “non-smoking, all ages live music venue.” I could hear famous white-haired blues/rock guitarist and singer Johnny Winter wailing away in there last night, so I stood on the sidewalk for a minute and enjoyed my own private mini-concert.

My itinerary is pretty jam-packed with both NASCAR events and investigating attractions that have nothing to do with stock car racing.  Today I’ll attend the NASCAR All-Star event (a fun race for big bucks) then tomorrow I’ll check out the Levine Museum of the New South for a cultural twist.  The Levine features the exhibit “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers: Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South. Covering 8,000 square feet, the exhibit features Charlotte and its 13 surrounding counties as a case study to illustrate the profound changes in the South since the Civil War.”

Monday brings a visit to the US National Whitewater Center (outdoor recreation and a multi-channel whitewater circulating river where the US Canoe and Kayak teams train) and a stop at Pit Crew U, where NASCAR pit crews learn how to magically refuel a car, change all four tires and make other adjustments in just a few seconds.

Tuesday I head out for a three-day road trip in the western part of North Carolina, driving up the stunning Blue Ridge Parkway, right past the Cold Mountain featured in the Civil War novel and movie of the same name.

Friday through Sunday I’m back in Charlotte for racing activities and the big Coca-Cola 600 race on Sunday May 27th — in case you open-wheel fans aren’t watching the Indy 500 instead.

Whenever I can post, I’ll certainly try to get you some more North Carolina travel gems “hot off the presses.”

Technorati tags:  travelCharlotteNorth CarolinaNASCAR